Education, Local News

District 161 approves 5-year plan for renovations at a cost of $17 million

After a year of discussion and planning, Flossmoor School District 161 School Board unanimously passed a Long Range Plan at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 23. The five-year blueprint of school upgrades carries a total price tag of $17 million.

The plan includes projects identified as priorities by the Long Range Planning Committee, a group the district said was composed of board members, staff and administration, parents, community members, and representatives from Wold Architects.

Carrying out the planned renovations will require layers of decision making and vote taking for the board. The following work is planned on this timetable:

2023: Replace boilers; replace windows as needed; replace rooftop air conditioning units that supply AC to the gymnasiums at Flossmoor Hills, Serena Hills and Western Avenue schools, and to the board room at Normandy Villa. 

2024 and 2025: Health/Life Safety checklist items. This term refers to physical elements inside school buildings that a district is required to maintain for the health and safety of students and staff. 

The Illinois State Board of Education performs Health/Life Safety inspections using a large checklist that includes fire detection, alarm and suppression systems; exit signage and lighting; emergency lighting systems; building construction requirements, and more. The district plans to work during these two years to bring all checklist items up to code.

The cost of the facilities work to take place from 2023 to 2025 is estimated at $9 million. 

2025: Relocation of the main office at Heather Hill, which is currently near the center of the school. General consensus is that its current location creates an unsafe environment, with visitors walking through part of the school before reaching the main office to check in. 

This renovation is projected to cost $2.5 million.

2025: Classroom renovations at Heather Hill and Western Avenue schools.

2026: Classroom renovations at Parker Junior High School.

2027: Classroom renovations at Flossmoor Hills and Serena Hills schools.

The cost of classroom renovations is projected to be $5.5 million. Planned work and purchases include painting, lighting upgrades, whiteboards, lunch tables, desks and chairs.

The district said funding for these projects will come from existing cash the district has, and bonds it plans to sell. The board does not plan to ask taxpayers for funding through a referendum.

According to the district, this is the breakdown of revenue sources:

  • $2 million will come from the Health/Life Safety Fund, which the district maintains for this purpose. 
  • $9 million is expected to be raised through the sale of bonds.
  • $6 million will be used from the district’s existing fund balance.

The process of determining priorities for the Long-Range Plan involved a number of committee meetings, at which members used a dot voting system to rank the issues they viewed as most important. Superintendent Dana Smith and board member Christine Vliestra both participated in the Long-Range Planning Committee, and reported back to the board about its progress.

Earlier talks centered around creating a 10-year plan, but the committee ultimately decided it was unwilling to project out that far. Associate Superintendent Fran LaBella said the district’s finances were one factor in restricting the plan to five years, along with concerns over future unknowns.

“Things change too much after five years — building conditions, district and program needs,” LaBella said. “Plus we will really only have enough money to work a five-year capital plan.”

That earlier proposal included an expansion and renovation of the main office at Western Avenue school, which was projected to cost $5 million, and building of a multi-use space called a Cafetorium at Parker Junior High School, a project that was estimated at $7 million. Neither of these projects made it to the final five-year Long Range Plan.

The district said its next step is to secure a general contractor or construction manager for the project, with plans for the board to review bids and approve a contract by late May.

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